A former rower for the Marlow Rowing Club said he had to ‘wash sewage off boats’ five years ago amid growing concern that Thames Water discharges will impact water sports like the town’s annual regatta.

Chris Renwick, who used to row for the local club and has done side-line commentary at the popular town regatta in the years since, said it was right that water companies were being criticised for discharging sewage into waterways around the UK, but denied that it has only recently become a problem.

Speaking on the banks of the River Thames during day one of the popular boating event yesterday (June 15), the 42-year-old said he “had been on the water recently and didn’t think twice” about the high levels of bacteria recently identified by TV naturalist Steve Backshall following sewage overflow from the Little Marlow Treatment Works.

“If you were to drink a pint of it, I think you would be in trouble, but sewage has always been put into the river. It’s just become a talking point now.

“It’s quite right that they should cut it down – they shouldn’t be doing it at all, but it’s something (rowers in Marlow) have been dealing with for years.

“We used to train by the lock, and we’d be told whenever sewage had been dumped in and have to come back and wash all the boats down. That was about five years ago.”

Water sample tests commissioned by Mr Backshall following over 12 hours of sewage discharge from the Little Marlow site in April found “environmentally damaging” levels of norovirus, enterovirus, E. Coli, nitrates and crass phage, bacteria commonly found in the human gut.

He told the Free Press lab technicians at Bangor University, where the samples were sent for testing, told him the concentration of sewage in the water was “a death potion for the Thames”.

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In March, high levels of E. Coli were also found along a stretch of the river used for the Oxbridge Boat Race, with a rower on the Oxford team claiming that sickness caused by the bacteria had played a part in their defeat.

Storm overflow data published by the Environment Agency for 2023 showed a 54 per cent increase in the number of sewage spills across the UK compared to 2022 – something the organisation said was partly due to England experiencing its sixth-wettest year on record.

Thames Water uses storm overflows to discharge excess waste and rainwater from its combined sewer system to nearby rivers and seas during periods of heavy rainfall.

The overflow helps to stop rainwater and sewage from overwhelming the pipe network and backing up into people’s homes and streets.

A spokesperson previously told the Free Press that “taking action to improve the health of rivers” is a priority for the company.

Adding: “Little Marlow Sewage Treatment Works is fully compliant with its effluent quality consent and its storm discharge permit, as set by the Environment Agency to protect river water quality and the association ecosystem.

“We have experienced excessive rainfall this winter, so our storm overflow system has worked to protect customers' homes during the wet weather, by releasing diluted wastewater into rivers, rather than letting it back up into people’s homes. We have also published plans to upgrade over 250 of our sites, including in Little Marlow. This will improve its ability to treat the volumes of incoming sewage, reducing the need for untreated discharges in wet weather.”